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Connecting a New Foundation to an Old One

DEAR TIM: I am building an addition on my home and realize I must connect the new foundation with the existing one. What is the best way to do this? Is there a way to waterproof the connection? Will this connection become a hinge point in the future causing cracks in the walls? I am very concerned about how to make a connection between the structures that will stand the test of time. Paul M., Orono, MN

DEAR PAUL: I can remember many years ago having these same thoughts when I was building my first room addition. I couldn't figure out how the shallow crawlspace foundation would stay connected to the full basement foundation since they were at different elevations. My geology professors would have frowned at me had they been at the jobsite as I was not thinking through the situation.

This footer supports part of my own home. The clay soil beneath it is extremely stable.

This footer supports part of my own home. The clay soil beneath it is extremely stable.

Many people fail to realize that a typical foundation wall is, among other things, a beam. You begin to see this if you look at the vertical web in a steel I beam or even a simple wooden floor joist. Understanding this is essential. Steel I beams derive much of their strength by the thickness and height of the vertical web section of the I beam, not the flat part that iron workers walk on as they erect the steel. A foundation wall is no different other than the fact its vertical height is ten or fifteen times greater than a typical I beam.

If you accept this principal, then it stands to reason the foundation will not flex up or down if the soil beneath this "beam" is solid. This is perhaps the most important aspect of connecting the two foundations: making sure you have great soil conditions under the foundation of the room addition.


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If the soil under and around the existing house is solid and the house foundation has no structural defects, it stands to reason you will have no connection problems in the future. When new homes are built, it is often a common practice to pour different parts of the foundation at different times and at different heights within the soil profile. The fact that you are installing the foundations years apart instead of days will make no difference.

The masonry foundation or the slab should also contain structural steel. Dual horizontal steel bars 16 inches from the top and bottom of poured concrete foundations help to create a stiff concrete beam. Concrete block foundations can incorporate steel truss fabric that is installed in every other row of the concrete block units. Filling the hollow cores of concrete block foundations with a sand/cement slurry also adds strength. Concrete slabs can contain one half inch diameter steel bars on two foot centers in both directions to stiffen the slab substantially. A residential structural engineer can easily specify the best solution for your particular situation.

This is the footer under the laundry room portion of my home. Note the distinct soil profiles. My house is built on glacial till. In fact, both visible soil profiles may represent two separate glacial episodes!

This is the footer under the laundry room portion of my home. Note the distinct soil profiles. My house is built on glacial till. In fact, both visible soil profiles may represent two separate glacial episodes!

You have numerous options with respect to making a physical connection between the two foundations. I have successfully installed steel pins that are epoxied into the old foundation. On other jobs, I have bolted a steel angle iron to the existing foundation. These building components then become encapsulated by the masonry materials that are used to create the new room addition foundation. It is always best to hire an engineer to create a design for this connection. This is especially true if you live in an area with expansive clay soils or an area that is subject to seismic movement.

There are special waterproof connection materials that work well when connecting a poured concrete foundation to an existing one. These flexible waterproofing materials look like weatherstripping on steroids as they have small fins that project from the center of the main strip. The base is epoxied and sealed to the existing foundation and the strip projects into the center of the foundation form. When the wet concrete surrounds the strip, you have a waterproof joint so long as the foundations do not pull apart from one another.

I feel the best way to waterproof new foundations is to apply special waterproofing compounds to the exterior of the finished foundation. There are many different products and systems but all rely on excellent drainage around the foundation. You need to make sure your drainage system can collect the subsurface water and transport it to a low spot on your property or into a sump pit where it can be pumped to a storm water collection system.

Soil stability is everything when it comes to foundations. If the soil quality is suspect, you can ensure a stable foundation by installing piers under the foundation footer. Piers can be made from concrete, steel or wood, but a common one is a simple vertical hole that extends into the soil until it finds bedrock or stable soil. This hole is then filled with concrete

Piers can be spaced at eight or ten foot intervals and resemble table legs. The foundation, which is a beam, simply transfers its load down and through the individual piers instead of the unstable soil in between the piers.

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One Response to Connecting a New Foundation to an Old One

  1. I am remodeling my house that is 25 years old. It has a basement except not under the garage. I wanted to remove the vinyl siding and brick the entire house from top to bottom however, I have been told it could be difficult to add brick since I have a basement. Do I have to go down to the basement footer to add a footer for the brick ? Or, could I dig a new footer along side my house? Or, attach something like metal to the house just below the soil line to support the brick? What options do I have and what would work best?

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